Luke 11:29
As the crowds were increasing, Jesus said, "This is a wicked generation. It demands a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.
Sermons
InspirationsR.M. Edgar Luke 11:14-36
A Word with Those Who Wait for Signs and WondersC. H. Spurgeon.Luke 11:29-30
The Demand for a SignDean Vaughan.Luke 11:29-30
The Sign of the Prophet JonasH. Melvill, B. D.Luke 11:29-30
These words apply to -

I. THE JEWISH CHURCH. Delivered of the demon of idolatry, and having a house "swept and garnished," perfected with all external religious proprieties, it became possessed of the worse demon of hypocrisy - worse in that it was more hopeless. For the idolater may be and often is convicted of his folly and is led into wisdom and piety; but the formalist and hypocrite is scarcely ever, if ever, won from his unreality and spiritual pride.

II. MANY A CHRISTIAN CHURCH. Delivered from worldliness, from vanity, from vice, in the first instance, many a Church has cherished the cruel demon of persecution, or the evil demon of pride, or the dangerous demon of formality. And it proves to be harder to awaken the sinful Church, living under its Lord's condemnation, to a new repentance and a revival of religious earnestness, than it was at first to conduct it into his kingdom. Its last state is less hopeful than the first.

III. MANY A HUMAN SOUL.

1. Men go a very long way in the direction of heavenly wisdom. They listen, they understand, they feel, they purpose, they pray, they profess, they preach or teach Divine truth to others, they conform their conduct to the requirements of the Word of God.

2. In this good course they are arrested, and they return on their way. Their devotedness slackens; their habits of worship become less regular; their habits of life become less scrupulous; the "spirit of their mind" grows secular, and indeed profane; they fall out of the ranks of the earnest, and, at last, even of the reverent; perhaps they descend to the unworthy, and even to the criminal. Not literally, but metaphorically speaking, there are "evil sprats" in them. They "are gone away backward."

3. Thus returning, they have almost hopelessly separated themselves from Christ; the "last state of that man is worse than the first" (see Hebrews 6:4-6). Not that renewal is absolutely impossible, but it is so spiritually difficult and so exceedingly rare that it may be said to be morally impossible. You cannot restore elasticity to the spring that has been overbent. You cannot make pungent again the salt that has lost its savor. You cannot infuse new force into truths which an emasculating familiarity has deprived of their virtue and their interest. Far more hopeless is the condition of the human soul that has drifted away from Christ than the one that has never heard of his Name or never been impressed with his claims. Therefore what?

(1) Let the Christian teacher see that his work is deep as well as broad; that the roots of sacred conviction are well planted in the soil; let him not be satisfied with his "converts" when they only manifest feeling; let him be assiduous in his attention, earnest in his prayer, until he is well assured that the soul for whom he is watching (Hebrews 13:17) has yielded himself, fully and whole-heartedly, to the Lord his Savior.

(2) Let the Christian disciple be on his guard; let him "watch and pray" lest he come under the power of some insidious temptation, lest he "lose that which he has wrought," lest the powers and principles that are from God and that have entered and touched his soul should depart from him, lest evil influences that are from beneath should take possession of him; for in that sad event he will be in a far worse spiritual state, more hopeless and pitiable, than if he had never heard the voice of Christ, and never risen at his call. - C.







The sign, of Jonas the prophet
There is a peculiarity here which you ought carefully to consider. A sign was asked by an evil generation, that if Jesus were truly the Christ, they might receive Him as their King, and give Him their allegiance; but the sign which is proffered, even the sign of the Resurrection, presupposed the perpetration of that crime, the prevention of which was the great object for which the sign was solicited. A sign, in short, is asked, which would prevent the rejection of Christ; a sign is proposed which would be no sign at all until He bad been rejected. The Jews must crucify the Christ in order to their obtaining the sign; whereas, they wanted the sign in order that they might be withheld from the crucifixion. Let us look into this matter. If, after all, an additional sign were to be given, why was such a sign selected as could have no existence until the crime had been perpetrated which it was the object of a sign to prevent? To this we reply, that it was not our Lord's object to prevent the Jews from crucifying Him; but it was His object to leave them inexcusable in so doing; and therefore did He ply them with miracles which were fitted to convince all who had understanding, and with discourses which were adapted to move all who had hearts. He gave proof enough of the justice of His pretensions, for it was proof which prevailed to the bringing many to His side; but when asked to carry proof to that extreme point where it becomes absolutely irresistible, to crowd the landscape or the firmament with signs which should leave the beholders no option, but compel them to receive Him as Messiah, why, He was then solicited to a course not only inconsistent with the free agency of man, but counter to the work which had brought Him down as a sojourner to earth. And why marvel that Christ should have withheld that additional evidence which was not necessary to make His countrymen inexcusable, and which would directly have interfered with the completion of the scheme of redemption? "Yes," you may say, "but the question is not why Christ should have refused all additional signs; the answer to this is comparatively easy; but why, in consenting to give another sign, He should have selected just that one, the sign of a resurrection, which must necessarily have been ineffectual in withholding the Jews from the greatest of crimes, and which could not exist unless and until they had committed that crime?" Does it not almost seem a mockery of the Pharisees, that when they asked a sign which might enable them to receive Jesus as the Christ, they were denied all but one, which they could only obtain by rejecting Him as the Christ. Remember, however, that sufficient evidence had been already vouchsafed; so that the Pharisees would have had no ground of complaint had the demand for further signs been met by unqualified refusal. And you are, moreover, probably quite wrong in speaking of the sign of the Resurrection as though it must necessarily have been too late to have been of service to the Jews, because undoubtedly too late to prevent His crucifixion. The crucifying Jesus did not fill up the measure of the guilt of the Jews; they did not touch the unpardonable sin, for they did not withstand the whole amount of evidence until they had refused to be convinced by the resurrection of Jesus and the miracles which evidenced the diffusion of the Spirit. It was indeed such a crime as had never been committed on the darkened stage of this fallen creation, that of putting to death as a malefactor the Being who went about doing good, and in whose actions there was the power as well as the loving-kindness of God. Yet — and there is no fact more glorious in the whole range of theology — yet the blood of the crucified made atonement for the crucifiers. Men had not sinned beyond the reach of mercy when they uttered the cry, "Away with Him, away with Him"; they had not blocked up against themselves the escape-path for eternity, when they buffeted the Mediator, and circled His forehead with thorns, and nailed Him to the cross, and reviled Him in His agonies. We will not indeed say that the Jews occupied so advantageous a moral position after as before they had crucified their King. They had resisted a vast body of evidence, and had therefore grown stronger in infidelity; they had perpetrated a most atrocious crime, and their consciences must have been scared in the perpetration; but if they had rendered themselves less accessible to the demonstrations of evidence, less susceptible of the remonstrances of righteousness, they had not rendered themselves one jot less the objects of the Mediator's regards, nor thrown themselves beyond the reach of His extraordinary sacrifice. The blood upon their hands, whilst it cried for vengeance on them as murderers, cried also — and oh I the voice which spake of pardon was far louder and deeper than that which spake of wrath — cried for mercy on them as the objects of redemption. And if that evil and adulterous generation, moved by the sign of the Resurrection, overcome by that most stupendous of all miracles, the breaking forth in His own might of the Crucified One from the sepulchre — if they had discerned and acknowledged and bewailed their iniquity, and flocking round the despised Nazarene had offered Him with tears their allegiance, and besought of Him pardon, and bowed before Him as a prince and a Saviour, who questions that this generation, eminent in guilt, foremost in all that can make human nature infamous, would have gathered to itself the smiles and the succours of God, and that Jesus would have stood, the upholder of those who had scorned Him, and a life-giver to those who had slain Him? Call ye the sign of Jonas a sign which came too late, when the blood had just been shed which blotted out the sin of the world? Call ye it too late, when apostles were proclaiming to their unbelieving countrymen, "Unto you first, God, having raised up His Son Jesus, sent Him to bless you!" Too late, when the publication of the gospel and the resurrection is to "begin at Jerusalem," and the very men who with wicked hands had crucified and slain the Prince of Life are to be entreated to look in faith to a Saviour waiting to embrace them, ere the tidings of deliverance may be carried to the cities and the islands of the heathen? Oh 1 no: all the aspect of strangeness disappears from our text; in place of manifesting harshness, in place of giving a compliance of less worth than a refusal, Christ displayed wondrously the graciousness of His character, and showed a still mighty desire to win the Jews from infidelity, when in answer to a demand to show more signs to an evil generation He said, "There shall no sign be given it, but the sign of Jonas." You ask us to show that the sign of the Resurrection was in itself sufficient to work conviction in all fair inquirers, and we give you our reply by going back over the waste of long ages, and leading you to Nineveh, that exceeding great city, with its vast but impious population. We bid you mark how on a sudden the sounds of revelry are hushed, how all the business and all the pleasures of the stirring and luxurious metropolis come as in a moment to a stand, and how the great and the mean, the king in his palace and the nobles in their halls, and the poor in their hovels, as though shrinking from a wrath which rushed visibly on, bow themselves to the earth, and cry mightily for deliverance. And why is this? Hath God indeed come forth from the solitudes of eternity, and, riding the firmament in the chariot of His vengeance, hath He made bare His arm in the view of the Ninevites? Have angelic beings, withering the eyesight of those who dared gaze on their forms of fire, come down with the proclamation, that yet forty days and the proud city shall be a ruin? Nay, a foreigner with no attendants, a poor and unprotected stranger, a wanderer without a home and without a friend in the magnificent capital, this is the being at whose bidding the tide of a nation's wickedness has been stayed in its flowings. This is the being whose voice, syllabling calamity, has put an arrest on the occupations and the joyousness of hundreds of thousands. Then this foreigner, this stranger, this wanderer, must have given striking evidence that he spake in God's name: and you will allow, that if in any other case the like evidence be afforded, the effect wrought on the Ninevites clearly shows that it ought to prove convincing. But this evidence was the evidence of a resurrection. This prophet of disaster had been sepulchred three days and three nights in the depths of the waters, and then rose up uninjured from that strangest of tombs. This fact it is that the Ninevites knew; on this fact it was that they received Jonas as a prophet. The evidence, then, of the resurrection was sufficient, under the most unpromising circumstances, when it stood absolutely alone, and the parties to be convinced were the idolatrous and the profligate. It follows, therefore, that enough evidence is afforded, whenever the evidence of a resurrection is afforded. When assured that a particular evidence has overcome the infidelity of one people, I can be morally certain that it is not owing to deficiency of proof that the like evidence failed to overcome the infidelity of another people. There is a voice, then, in the history of Nineveh, which proclaims the Jews inexcusable in their unbelief. The voice of weeping and of wailing which issues from every house in that terrified capital is witness against the wickedness of the haughty Jerusalem. A nation clothed in sackcloth, and prostrating itself in spirit, and all because moved by the sign of a resurrection, this is our proof that the sign of a resurrection is powerful enough to test the pretensions of a prophet; and when, therefore, another nation resists the sign which has thus shown its strength, continuing in unbelief, though the messenger who declares himself authorized by God hath burst the bands of death and mastered the grave, we can be persuaded of this nation that its infidelity is not to be overcome by any evidence which consists with human accountability, and we are convinced that Christ did all that could be done for "an evil and adulterous generation," when He promised them as the last in the long series of proofs "the sign of Jonas the prophet; for as Jonas was a sign unto the Ninevites, so shall also the Son of Man be to this generation." Well, then, might the Redeemer, when He had referred the scribes and the Pharisees to the sign of His resurrection — well might He conjure up the scenery of the last judgment, and represent the Ninevites as convicting the Jews and justifying their condemnation. "The men of Nineveh shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonas! and, behold, more than Jonas" for this is the true rendering, not "a greater than Jonas" — "behold, more than Jonas is here." The evidence granted to the Jews in the resurrection of Christ, in the preaching of the apostles and the gift of the Spirit, exceeded any that may be supposed to have been granted to the Ninevites in the preservation of Jonah.

(H. Melvill, B. D.)

Reading the Old Testament, we observe that the Lord in the olden time condescendingly gave signs to His servants, when He saw that it would be for their good. Doubtless if again there should come a necessity for signs to any of God's servants, such tokens would be given them. If there should ever be a time when it was not possible for Christians to walk by faith alone, or when it would be more to the honour of God that their confidence should be somewhat assisted by marvels and tokens, then would God go out of the ordinary way once again and His people should receive miraculous seals. In no case is such a thing at all necessary under the gospel dispensation, which is so enriched with plainest evidence, that to add more would be to hold a candle to the sun, or pour water into the ocean. In addition to this first remark, let us add that signs have been given, and yet have not wrought faith in those who have seen them; and there is no necessary connection between seeing signs and believing that which the signs attest.

I. I shall ask your attention while I DESCRIBE THE PERSONS who are an evil generation that seek after a sign. We have among us many individuals who are aware that they are sinners, and are conscious of their guiltiness to such an extent as to be very uneasy as to their condition. They clearly perceive that sin will be punished by the Great Judge, and they are much afraid of the wrath to come. They anxiously desire, moreover, to find salvation; and, having long listened to the gospel, they are not ignorant of the way in which salvation is obtained; they understand the gospel in the letter of it to the highest degree. They are not unbelievers in any of the doctrines of the gospel; but illogical as their state is, they still remain unbelievers, with all this belief about them, and justify their remaining in unbelief by telling you that if they felt this, or if they saw that, or if this happened, or if the other thing occurred, then they would believe in Jesus, but not until then. They make different demands. There are some, and these are generally the most uneducated, who expect to experience remarkable dreams or to behold singular visions. Others we have met with, who suppose that in order to being saved they must feel some very peculiar physical sensation. Now you must not look for this. You must not put physical contortions or sensations as a test before the Lord, and say you will not believe in Him otherwise. These I hope are rare cases, but in very frequent instances I have met with people who will not believe in Jesus Christ to the salvation of their souls because they have not felt wretched enough. They have read in certain books of holy men who, when they were seeking a Saviour, were broken in pieces under the ponderous hammer of the law. They turn to such biographies, and they find the subjects of them uttering language similar to the book of Job, or to the words of Jeremy in the Lamentations. Ah! poor demented one, to desire misery, and to make your own wretchedness, and even your own unbelieving and wicked thoughts of God to be a kind of preparation for faith in Jesus Christ! It is a most insanely wicked thing, and yet many, many, many persist in unbelief because they think they are not wretched enough. Running to the other extreme, I have met with others who would not simply trust Christ because they were not happy enough. They have heard of the Christian's joys, and the peace, like a river, that evermore abideth, and they have said, "If I could get this peace, if this deep calm ruled in my spirit, then I could believe." As much as to say, "If I saw the wheat full grown in the fields of my soul, then I would begin to sow", whereas the sowing must precede the reaping. I have met with some who would not believe in Christ because they could not pray eloquently. "Oh," they have said, "if I could pray like So-and-So, to whom we have listened with the greatest pleasure at the prayer-meeting, then I could put my trust in Christ, and there would be some hope for me!" I have known others who must feel precisely like certain eminent saints have felt many years after their conversion, or else they cannot believe that they are saved. They will reach down the life of some holy man who had mastered his passions by long years of mortification, who had come to live near to God, and whose life was the heavenly life on earth, and they will mentally vow, "I must be just like this man," say they, "or else I cannot believe in Jesus." They say, in fact, to the Heavenly Physician, "I am sick and ready to die, but, Good Physician, Thou must make me as strong as Samson at once and on the spot, or else I will not receive Thy medicine," just as if the perfect spiritual cure of the soul were not a lifelong work of grace.

II. I shall now, secondly, SHOW THE FOLLY OF SUCH CONDUCT. YOU are seeking a sign, one of these which I have described, or some other.

1. You seek what is quite unnecessary. What do you want a sign for? You want, you say, a token of God's love. What token of God's love to you can ever be wanted, now that He has given His only-begotten Son, first to live on earth, and then to die in pains extreme, the just for the unjust, "that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life"! I blush for you, that you should ask any token of God's love while Jesus Christ is before you, for herein is such love as nothing else can ever equal. What do you want a sign for? Why, to show, you say, that there is mercy for you. How do you need that? The very fact that you are alive shows how merciful God is!

2. You are also asking for useless signs. What evidence could there be now,, for instance, in mere dejection of spirit? You want to feel miserable you say: what evidence would that be of your salvation? It seems to me that you are like a man who would say that he would catch hold of a rope if he could sink so many fathoms deeper in the ocean, or that he would avail himself of a dispensary if his disease were so much worse. How strange that a rational man should talk thus! Despair is no help to faith. Sinful doubts cannot assist you to Christ; they may most effectually keep you from Him. are you not also seeking most unreasonable things? To ask a sign from God when He pledges His word seems to me to be out of all reason. You are a beggar, remember, and we have an old proverb that beggars must not be choosers; above all, how dare a beggar demand a sign before he receive an alms?

III. I shall now want a few minutes more, and your very serious attention, while I now LAY BARE YOUR SINS, your grievous sins.

1. My dear hearers, in the first place, you make God a liar. Is not this the testimony of the Holy Ghost, "He that believeth not hath made God a liar"?

2. In the next place, you insult God's sovereignty. He has a right to give signs or not, as He wills; but you do, as it were, say, "Thou shalt give me a sign or else I will be damned. I will not have Thy mercy if I cannot have it in my own way: great God, I will not be saved unless I can feel as I want to feel." O fling away this accursed pride of yours, and kiss His silver sceptre, and say, "Lord, save me as Thou wilt. I believe, help Thou my unbelief."

3. I must tell you what is more, you are acting the part of an idolater. What does an idolater do? He says, "I cannot believe in an unseen God; I must have a golden calf or an image, that I can see with my eyes and touch with my hand." You say just the same. You cannot believe God's naked word, you demand something you can feel, something you can see. Sheer idolatry.

4. Do you not see, moreover, that you crucify the Saviour? Those who nailed His hands to the tree were not greater sinners, even if they were so great, as you are who say to Him, "Bleeding Saviour, I believe that Thou hast died on the cross; I believe that Thy blood could cleanse sin, but I cannot trust Thee to do it; I have no confidence in Thee; I cannot, will not trust Thee. I trust my husband, but I cannot trust my Saviour; I trust my child, but I cannot trust my God; I trust my minister, but I cannot trust the Son of God exalted in the highest heavens." Why, this is crucifying Him — this is treating Him as a dog only should be treated.

IV. YOUR DANGER In danger of death: you admit that, and now suppose you die in the state you are in. Why, you are almost saved; you are awakened, you are aroused, you have many good desires, but a man who is only almost saved will be altogether damned. There was a householder who almost bolted his door at night, but the thief came in; a prisoner was condemned to be hanged, and was almost pardoned, but he hung on the gallows; a ship was almost saved from shipwreck, but she went to the bottom with all hands on board; a fire was almost extinguished, but it consumed a city; a man almost decided remains to perish in the flames of hell. So is it with you; except you believe, all these things which you possess of good desire and emotion, shall be of no service to you at all, for "he that believeth not shall be damned."

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

When Christ was on earth He was again and again assailed by this cry, "Show us a sign." "What sign showest Thou?" And there was an offer accompanying it. Show us this, and we will see and believe. If a man says to the holy and merciful Saviour, There is one proof which would satisfy me — which of us would not say, Surely Christ will grant it? Even if the thing asked he unreasonable, yet surely Christ will not be extreme to mark it — He will do what even prejudice asks — the end is good, and the means to it at least not evil. It is a natural question — we must not leave it without a word in answer — Why was Christ displeased, why is God silent, when this is the prayer? And I think we shall say —

1. Because there is a radical fault in the prayer itself. It originates, where it ought to follow; it prescribes, where it ought to accept. There is a thorough upsetting and subverting, in such prayer, of the relationship of man to his God. In such prayer man goes first, and God is to go after. Man says, I will give the law to my God — I will tell Him what He ought to do — and then, if He does that, I will have Him; not else. The very prayer is presumption.

2. But again, Because the result thus reached is not the rest and the inheritance which God designs for us. A man who believes because he sees has not got at last the salvation which he came for. It is a poor inferior mechanical process altogether, this conviction by the help of signs.

3. We might add yet one other reason, and say, Because such proofs would hopelessly perplex and alienate the mind which expects the dealing of God to be uniform and consistent in all its provinces of operation.

(Dean Vaughan.)

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